Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kate Greenaway Talks Almanack Layout

by Stephen J. Gertz

Sometime in late 1891, Kate Greenaway wrote the following note to her printer/publisher, Edmund Evans.

Dear Mr Evans

I think it will be best to fill the months oblong with colour. I don't think all the page tinted as the oblong left white will look well - I have finished 4 months - only if you agree with me in this. I will add some snow to one - before I send them to you.

Yours sincerely, KG

I enclose 6 stamps for postage. Many thanks for books.

Opposite the letter's text, on page three, is the layout she suggests: a tall oblong black ink drawing at left of a woman in hat and cloak with left arm raised, with text to its right and below. The design is clearly for one of her almanacks.

It's a very special note: A) It is written to Evans, the most accomplished and celebrated color printer of his era and the man who published Greenaway's first book and developed her professional career; B) It refers to work in progress, always prized in an ALs; C) It contains a sketch in Kate Greenaway's hand.

But there's something even more compelling about the note. That sketch came to life.

January 1892. Snow Added.

The sketch was developed, finished, and is found in Kate Greenaway's Almanack for 1892 as the illustration for January - the woman in red cloak and hat - with snow added, per Greenaway's declaration in the note. This puts a huge dot on the "i," as in Ai! Ai! Ai!

This note possesses all that one could hope for in a signed autograph letter. The only thing that could have improved its content would have been if Greenaway had referred to John Ruskin, celebrated art critic, her mentor and close confidant:

"Not content with his own madness, Ruskin is driving me nuts. 'Love the little girls!" He's beginning to creep me out."

"Working for the printer and publisher Edmund Evans, Kate Greenaway's books and various designs soon became enormously popular in Britain and the United States and, with [John] Ruskin acting as champion and her advisor, her fame and stature rapidly increased" (Chris Beetles, The British Art of Illustration 1800-1991, p. 43) (1846-1901)

Edmund Evans (1826-1905) was the foremost publisher of color-printed books of his era. "In the 1860s Evans established himself as the leading and the best woodblock colour printer in London...The next big development in commercial colour printing in Britain came with the publication of the Toy Books...The demand for Toy Books became so great that - like other printers - Evans turned publisher, and commissioned the artists himself...Evans's...protégé was Kate Greenaway...In 1877 she took a book of her own verses and drawings to Evans, who immediately accepted them and obtained...agreement to publish them in a 6-shilling book to be called Under the Window. He printed 20,000 copies, which soon sold out, and he had great difficulty in keeping up with demand: Under the Window was still in print in 1972. Greenaway never allowed anyone other than Evans to engrave and print her illustrations, clearly recognizing how much Evans's interpretative skills and ability to match medium to style contributed to the final appearance of her work" (Oxford DNB).

"By the 1870s [Edmund] Evans' firm had a high reputation. 'No firm in London could come near the result that Edmund Evans could get with as few, say, as three colour-blocks, so wonderful was his ingenuity, so great was his artistic taste and so accurate his eye' [Spielmann and Layard, p. 41]...[Greenaway] was not a shrewd businesswoman but in dealing with Evans she did manage to achieve considerable success" (Engen, p. 52).

“The beginning of 1883 had seen the publication of Kate Greenaway’s first Almanack. Published at one shilling by George Routledge & Sons, and of course engraved and printed in colours by Mr. Edmund Evans, it achieved an enormous success, some 90,000 copies being sold in England, America, France, and Germany. It was succeeded by an almanack every year (with but one exception, 1896) until 1897, the last being published by Mr. Dent. The illustrations were printed on sheets with blank spaces for the letterpress, in which English, French, or German was inserted as the market demanded. There are various little conceits about these charming productions which are calculated to appeal to the ‘licquorish chapman of such wares’; so that complete sets of them already fetch respectable sums from the collectors of beautiful books, especially when they have not been divested of the paper envelopes or wrappers in which they were originally issued” (Spielmann and Layard (1905), p. 122).

GREENAWAY, Kate. EVANS, Edmund. Signed Autograph Letter From Kate Greenaway to Her Publisher/Printer, Edmund Evans. N.p. [London], n.d. [1892]. 3 pp, including ink drawing. 4 1/2 x 7 inches (114 x 176 mm); 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (114 x 88 mm), as folded.  

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, currently offering this item, with our thanks.

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